If anyone could work blue language like a musical instrument, it was Bob Saget, the stand-up, comic actor and writer, and filmmaker who passed away, suddenly, last week. Saget’s reserved manner of making foulmouthed material such as that of “The Aristocrats”—the ultimate vulgar joke from vaudevillian times that Saget and dozens of other comics told in the 2005 documentary of the same name—into something sonorous was like hearing Sonny Rollins with his tenor sax, or seeing Basquiat work his oils: the stuff of a master. My interviews with him in Philadelphia (where both of us grew up) are lost to a fuzzy internet, but I can recall him chewing through F bombs as if he was enjoying a fine meal. Those who understood the arc of his career, from lusciously lewd stand-up to family-first video host, to squeaky-clean sitcom father figure (with Full House and again decades later on Fuller House) knew, too, of Saget’s affiliations with and love of music, which often became part of his act.
“I still didn’t think I’d actually become a stand-up, but somehow it just started to happen,” wrote Saget in his 2014 autobiography, Dirty Daddy. “At about seventeen, on a fluke, I entered an FM radio station contest (Philadelphia’s WMMR FM) and won. I went onstage at a club and sang a song I’d written called ‘Bondage.’ At seventeen. I wasn’t exactly Janis Ian, although I looked like her a little. I’m glad the song was loud and upbeat so I couldn’t hear people asking for their checks… I was the kid with a dream—and a really s— guitar. Not quite a regular-sized guitar, not quite a ukulele, kind of a Shetland guitar. Being such a freakish instrument, maybe it made my music seem larger in scope than it was. Right, no, it did not.”
Alongside Saget-the-comedian, there was the Saget who, in 2007, jumped onstage with Guster at a Boston Opera House show at the band’s urging; or who sang CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” to the amazement of The Masked Singer judges as the face behind the Squiggly Monster disguise; or pulled out an acoustic guitar during his stand-up set to deflate rumors about the homoeroticism implied by the fact that his Full House father was living with other men, with “Danny Tanner Was Not Gay” from his Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right special. It was the Saget who performed the Fuller House theme with Carly Rae Jepsen on stage in Milwaukee, who did his punk rock routine on Full House, leather jacket and all, singing The Who’s “My Generation” to prove that Saget was the cool dad.
Saget was, hands down, the coolest dad.
“He used to slice deli meats at the Pantry Pride where my mom used to shop. That deli counter was his real comic start: he would heckle people in line. He would make fun of people for the way they asked for the meats. I was a kid, a little younger than him, but there he was—funny, engaging.” — Craig Shoemaker
“The last time I saw him was at a Who concert last summer at the Hollywood Bowl,” says longtime friend, fellow Philadelphian, and like-minded comedian Craig Shoemaker. “He was with Judd Apatow and their wives. Bob loved The Who.” On tour doing stand-up, promoting his LaughterHeals.org nonprofit dedicated to using laughter as a healing modality, hosting his Laugh It Off podcast, and spreading the gospel of the healing power of laughter, Shoemaker mentions how working music into his set was a massive part of Saget’s schtick from Bob’s first times on stage at Starz, a long-gone Philly nightclub where both comedians got their start.
“He was really into the guitar, and had his rigged where he could push a button and quarts of water would come pouring down from the stage when he sang 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps.' He’d do these really quick bits. Like one where he would start singing Billy Joel’s ‘Bottle of red, bottle of white / That makes pink’ to the music from Camelot—he would sing, “When I’m feeling lonely, I cum a lot, cum a lot.” His version of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” [“Don’t Let Your Son Go Down on Me”] was also big. These were some of his first bits.”
But Shoemaker makes an interesting point when he says that his recollection of Saget’s comic skills go beyond the date-stamp of the Starz stage. “He used to slice deli meats at the Pantry Pride where my mom used to shop,” recalls Shoemaker. “We grew up very near to each other, different towns but on the same side of the Schuylkill. That deli counter was his real comic start: he would heckle people in line. He would make fun of people for the way they asked for the meats. I was a kid, a little younger than him, but there he was—funny, engaging. The same guy that he was when I made my debut on stage at Starz where he was already a regular.”
Shoemaker goes on to show his appreciation for the big-brotherly Saget from that auspicious start, how the latter shared encouragement for the former throughout their careers—from Philly’s Temple University where both comedians were in attendance, to the start of Full House where Craig was in the running to play the Uncle Joey character that went to Dave Coulier—up through the time of Fuller House, where Saget called Shoemaker to join the writing staff.
“I was the only stand-up comedian in that writer’s room of 12 people. Bob was supportive of that, even though many other writers were not supportive of me being in that room, especially since I was allowed to still do my stand up and write. Maybe they were annoyed that I would come to the office after a long weekend with a tan if I had a gig in Hawaii. He knows the value of stand-up, a certain kind of punchline and sense of humor. Writers don’t necessarily know what it’s like to be out there and on stage. Bob and I, though, we were out there doing it, and kept being out there doing it. We weren’t necessarily besties, but we were rooted in…our roots of Philadelphia, which is always about old friends and family. The feel of it. We shared that.
“And stand-up,” Shoemaker continues. “He stayed loving it until his very end, texting his family and tweeting to the people who loved him. And he was—and is—universally loved by fans and peers. I want to change the name of my tour to the ‘I Want to Be Like Bob Tour,’ as he’s so beloved. His was a wonderful life.” FL